Rika Inami’s End

when the end
comes upon me ―
sirens blowing
through the darkness
rushes to the fire
© Rika Inami (Japan)

This self-eulogy is evocative in its simplicity and pacing. There is nothing difficult to understand in this tanka, but the subtle meaning behind it might be.

The end of the tanka is not about her, but about fire, an all-consuming element. I think Rika is expressing that in the end, she will become one with her surroundings, or maybe  she or her life was an illusion all along.

It also seems the author is saying that when her end comes, there will be no use in trying to pity her or get involved in feelings. But rather, the author could be pointing to the problem that made her die in the first place. “Fire” has a lot of symbolism attached to it, such as passion, anger, inspiration, and so on.

With the em dash in the second line, we feel more of her end, as she gives us time to take it in. The em dash might seem unnatural, but for poetry, it totally makes sense to have there. In tanka, we sometimes use punctuation to show two parts more clearly. So, Rika is also demarcating the parts in the tanka.

The photo connects indirectly to the tanka wonderfully. The red of the maple leaves shows the fire and the latern is similar to a siren light.

The most prominent sound to me in this tanka is the “o” sound in “comes,” “upon,” “blowing,” “through” and “to.” It gives an effect of a suspension of time and makes us read the poem slower.

A humble poem about one’s death, written in a simple style. But that is just the surface. I think this tanka brings up a lot of symbolism and thoughts about the reality/illusion of life, where we go when we die, and what we are meant for in the end.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

Adjei Agyei-Baah’s Clap

folding and unfolding
the unheard clap
of the butterfly

Brass Bell, October 2015

© Adjei Agyei-Baah (Ghana)

This points directly to the notion that haiku is a poetry of insight. The things we don’t realize are around us are brought to the surface.

With the start of the haiku, it seems we are almost going in slow motion, witnessing the butterfly as a detached observer. And in those moments of detachment, often we can experience phenomena that are seemingly hidden.

With the word “unheard,” we comprehend that the author did not actually hear the clap of the butterfly’s wings, but understood in his observation that he could not hear it. It is a metaphor for all things we don’t hear, and in a wider view, what we don’t experience.

We believe our reality to be as it is, though we cannot experience everything that is happening. Then what is truly objective? What would complete objective reality be like? Is there such a thing?

As haiku writers, we try to be objective as possible with what senses we have. However, in this haiku, I believe the author is directing our attention to the fact to just how limited we are in our ability to experience life and to understand it completely.

Getting away from philosophy for a moment, I enjoy how the lines flow. The last line comes as a eureka moment in the pacing itself, and the lines in general make the reader read slowly. This helps us to really take in the moment.

The sound works well to give a lilting feeling to it with the letter “l” in “folding,” “unfolding,” “clap,” and “butterfly.”

Now back to the act itself: the clap. What does the clap indicate? The author does not say, which is a classic haiku technique. If you over-explain in haiku, you usually are doing a disservice to your readers. They should have space to figure out and feel things for themselves.

The clap could be applause, either congratulatory or mocking. The clap could be an alert to danger. The clap could also refer to the famous Zen riddle: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Also in Zen, clapping is used to wake students up to the awareness of the moment. The butterfly could be a teacher of ours, and we don’t even know it.

But the clap could simply be. The clap could be just a clap. And with it being unheard, the author may have heard the unheard clap in his mind, and got immersed in that sound. By the tone of the haiku, this seems quite plausible.

Whatever we think about the clap, its unheard sound is heard in the minds of each reader of this haiku.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)


Christina Sng’s Summer Comfort

summer comfort
the arthritic cat
basks in the sunlight

Honourable Mention, Neo-classical Haiku, World Haiku Review (June 2016, World)

© Christina Sng (Singapore)

This haiku, to my mind, is double-sided. It may seem like it is a simply poem about an arthritic cat enjoying a moment away from pain, but therein lies the other side. Even as the cat is enjoying its moment of peace, its pain and existence of suffering will come back momentarily or the cat is already feeling pain, but only has a peek at peace. That serenity seems bittersweet: intermixed with the joy is the mooring of pain that the cat feels continuously.

This applies to human beings as well, and it is typical in haiku to show compassion to animals and nature in general so we can reflect on ourselves. Through our compassion for the cat, we may realize that people around us feel the same, living moment by moment in pain with glimpses of peace.

The first two lines make for a strong juxtaposition. “Comfort” and “arthritic” are not two words we usually associate together. But that is what haiku does: brings together dissonant parts of life and makes us see the range that life brings, in all its contradictions. But in this haiku, and many others, the end result is the heart: through the contradiction, the melancholy, we feel compassion and care for the cat–and hopefully in turn, we care for all living beings and for ourselves.

The last line gives the impression that the cat is relaxing for a while with “basks.” But who is to know if the cat is feeling pain, if it is trying escape from pain, or in fact the cat has passed away and is simply laying in the sunlight now–a kind of heavenly light, but in a direct sense.

This haiku is made up of hints, and leads the reader to many avenues of the mind. However, this haiku has a celebratory mood, though tinged with a sense of sadness. The use of “the” in the last line gives the light more prominence and it would not be far-fetched that the cat has passed away and or the cat is in its final moments. It is not so common in haiku to have two “the” as we like to give focus to one thing. But here the cat and the sunlight has equal importance, which hints that the cat and the sunlight are a part of a larger process that we need to pay attention to.

Notice how each line ends with a definitive “t.” The strength of the sound of the “t” should not be underestimated. It is the power behind words such as “might,” “smite,” and “sight.” It is a sharp sounding letter appropriate for a sharp contrast and look into existence. Also, “cat” and “comfort,” besides the alliteration, brings in a sense of keenness.

In haiku, the last line is usually short. However, in light of the pain and possible death, the poet judiciously uses a longer line to show importance and present a tribute.

As a former cat owner, I know how hard it is to see a beloved pet suffer and die. I believe this haiku brought out the appropriate emotion without being overt, using evocative imagery instead.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

Mark Meyer’s Pond

evening stillness
bells of Kōfuku-ji
rippling the pond

© Mark Meyer (USA)

This haiku definitely has a classical feel to it: temple bells, a pond, and stillness. Yet, Meyer made something new with classical elements in mind.

Knowing what “Kofuku-ji” is intrinsic to feeling what the haiku is about. Kofuku-ji used to be the family temple of the Fujiwara, the most powerful family clan during much of the Nara and Heian periods. The temple was established in Nara at the same time as the capital in 710. At the height of Fujiwara power, the temple consisted of over 150 buildings.

In addition, Meyer noted that the complex has a lot of legends associated with it. This information gives us a sense that there might be something mystical in the haiku. How nature and human culture interact is often remarkable, and I believe this haiku is showing us a window into this phenomenon.

The pond is still. The bell rings from the ancient temple and the vibrations from its sound reverberates on the water, creating ripples. The ancient temple may not be as it used to be, but it is still creating the same effect on the waters around it. This brings about the haiku aesthetic of continuance despite a death, or against all odds.

Also, there is something supernatural in nature itself that allows us to draw inspiration from it. By noticing the ripples on the pond from the bells, I get a sense of the supernatural, especially with the temple being associated with many legends.

I like how the dash is used to illustrate just how silent the moment was. I also enjoy the “l” sound with “stillness,” “bells,” and “rippling.” The circular sound of “l” brings the ripples to mind.

An elegant haiku that brings a sense of peace and remembrance.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)


Michael Dylan Welch’s Scattered Petals

scattered petals . . .
the thud of my books
in the book drop

© Michael Dylan Welch (USA)

The first line most likely refers to late spring, when the petals on blossoms regularly fly off, though some petals scatter in early spring as well. Instead of “scattering” we have “scattered,” which denotes that we are seeing the petals after they have already spun through the wind and landed in a formation. The kireji or “cutting word” as the ellipsis works well to show the continuous motion of the petals. Though Welch does not specify which petals, I imagine them to be pink.

Then we have an abrupt action: the thud of books. It is important to note the use of “my.” It could mean the books the author wrote himself or simply the books he is returning to a library. The use of “my ” gives the books more weight, no pun intended.

In the third line, we get to know that the thud of books is coming from a book drop, which are located at libraries.

Though books and petals have much different physical weights and the actions described in both parts seem to be different, they have a similarity: transience and a circular nature. Through seasons, petals come and go, illustrated nicely by the ellipsis. But even if they appear to be transient, they always come back each year. On the other hand, when we get out books from the library, we eventually return them, and then someone else will take them out. Though the author’s reading of the books was temporary, there is an endless cycle of reading them from the countless readers at the library.

Another thing to get from the juxtaposition is how the two actions connect. Did the dropping off of the books, and its thud, cause the petals to scatter, or vice versa? Kind of like a trick of the mind, I find myself hearing the thud of the books as I imagine the petals scattering, possibly around the library courtyard, or parking lot. I also see how the definite thud of the books correlate to the now still petals on the ground. Though cause and effect is usually avoided in haiku between the two parts, it is not a “sin” to imply it.

The sound of the haiku works well. The “s” sound in “scattered,” “petals,” and “books” make a rustling sound akin to scattering petals. The “o” sound in “books” and “book drop” illustrate the dropping motion and maybe the sensation we feel when dropping books off.

The use of two “the” seems right, as both the sound of the books dropping and the book drop itself need to be important. If it was “a book drop” I think we would feel the impact less.

The mood the haiku is somber and introspective. For me, it instantly puts me in a state of looking for higher meaning in what I perceive in everyday life. Many haiku poets would agree that it is one their goals for readers when writing haiku: to allow people to see greater significance behind mundane existence and to see the connection between the myriad things we perceive.

If you want to learn more about Michael Dylan Welch and read his fantastic essays on haiku and related subjects, visit http://www.graceguts.com/

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)


Lucky Triana’s New Moon

new moon
a firefly is stuck
in the scarecrow’s eye

© Lucky Triana (Indonesia)

We start with a common kigo, or seasonal reference: new moon. It is crescent shaped, can be a reference to new beginnings, or new enlightenment.

Then we get another subject: a firefly. And for some reason, the firefly is stuck. In haiku, the second line commonly acts as a pivot line that builds suspense, and Lucky does a good job providing anticipation for the third line.

In the third line, we get a shocker. The firefly is stuck in the scarecrow’s eye! A unique, strange, and maybe philosophical image. If a haiku surprise readers, it is often on the right track.

We got two parts: the new moon, and the firefly stuck in the scarecrow’s eye. These two parts make a comparison. This comparison is an indirect simile saying that “the new moon is like a firefly stuck in a scarecrow’s eye.” Each haiku is a new connection (hopefully) between two things, be it a comparison, contrast, or association.

In the context of this haiku, I believe this comparison brings about a sense of life and death. Scarecrows are obviously not alive, but the firefly stuck in the eye of the scarecrow, showing light and moving, gives us a lens through which we can see how the scarecrow might be seen if it was alive. Though it is the misfortune of the firefly to be stuck in the scarecrow’s eye, it partially brings the scarecrow to life.

This might be a metaphor for how we live. Some people believe they had suddenly woke up to reality after years of being in a sleeping state. This enlightenment or self realization sometimes happens at the expense of a misfortune of another person or oneself.

The sound of the haiku is effective as well. The “s” sound in “stuck” and “scarecrow” makes these keywords more prominent. There is also a musical quality to the haiku with the “e” and “o” running through the haiku.

Lucky Triana presented a classic seasonal reference and found a unique comparison for it. A fun, interesting read.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)

Yumino Aoiro’s Cicada

05 - 1

In this haiku, we have a classic aesthetic showcased: continuance. With the first line, we understand that the cicada has moved out of its larva shell, but what happens after…

Its shell flutters in the wind, almost like its real self, now flying through the air–only for a short time though. The short-lived nature of both the fluttering shell and the cicada itself is poignantly shown in one’s imagination. Though the shell is living a new, “full” life of a cicada by flying in the air (even fluttering like wings), that life will end too soon.

The ellipses is used well to show the continuation of the shell and to make the two parts in the haiku clear. The lines are short and the words are not complicated, which is important in haiku. Also, both parts are easy to understand.

This haiku is a sketch from life, of which master haiku poet Shiki championed. Something simple, objective, and in the moment is celebrated and focused on with a sense of awe.

The alliteration of “shell” and “small” emphasize the importance of these words, and the “i” sound carried through the poem in “cicada” “pieces” “it” “in” and “wind” gives this haiku a sense of sharpness.

The art, what I presume to be bamboo leaves, resemble the shape of the fluttering wings of a cicada well and create a definite mood. How the lines are laid out on the page show a continuation as well.

Yumino seemed to put a lot of thought behind the words and image of this haiku. A great haiku with much to think about and to feel.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)


Olivier Schopfer’s Confession

the white lily’s
pollen-covered anthers…
time to confess

Modern Haiku 46.2, Summer, 2015

© Olivier Schopfer (Switzerland)

This haiku has strong emotional overtones. The comparison of the pollen-covered anthers of the white lily and the opportune time to confess is at once striking and natural. Just like the anthers filled with pollen, the feeling of someone who wants to confess something is similar: a new beginning is ahead, the weight of expectation is heavy, and it colors the person to a great degree in terms of personality and even appearance.

The poet could also be asking the lily to confess something. Though this interpretation is more abstract, as it is not easy to think about what you would ask the lily to confess, I think this is the point. Haiku often bring us to a point where thinking is no longer possible, and only awareness remains.

The imagery itself is compelling. There is so much to imagine in three lines: the pollen-heavy anthers, how one confesses, the petals of the white lily, the possible person hearing the confession, and maybe more. If a haiku does not allow the reader to imagine much from the haiku, then usually that haiku can be said to be not layered or detailed enough.

The punctuation is also interesting to note. The use of an ellipsis shows a waiting or carrying on of the pollen on the anthers. With the context of the last line, it seems the pollen has been on the lily’s anthers for too long.

The “i” sound runs through the first and last line, whereas the “e” sound goes through the second line and third line. Besides making the haiku more musical,  I believe the “i” sound brings more urgency to the tone, and the “e” sound shows more of the beauty of the lily.

The purity of the lily and the act of confession is also a poignant contrast. It makes readers think of the true meaning of purity. It is great when you can see both a similarity and a contrast in a haiku’s juxtaposition. Schopfer has brought us a lot to delve into within a short amount of words, while also touching on an event that nature and human beings have to live through.

– Nicholas Klacsanzky (Ukraine)